Bullying and social pressures weigh heavily on many youth. One group of Greymouth High School students decided to make it their mission to empower teens in their community.
Speak Up is their new online portal designed by students for students to help them find their way through troubled times.
Teenagers have a torrent of hormones, expectations, beliefs, emotions and ideas competing for their attention. At a time when their brains have not yet developed enough to deal with them effectively.
They, and those around them, are trying to understand who they are and how to relate with others. Life can be confusing at the best of times and, at the worst of times. These pressures can contribute to risky choices, negative self-image and even suicide.
West Coast Communities are not as well-resourced as some larger settlements around New Zealand.
Greymouth is the largest town on the Coast but mental health and community support services are relatively limited. Millie Cropp (15), Skye Symmers (15) and Amanda Cook (15) decided to revive a peer mediation network that had been trialled unsuccessfully in the past.
Previous efforts had developed peer mediators but students were not engaging with the service.
Other schools they have asked have had similar experiences. What was missing and how it could be improved on?
The group concluded there was often a lack of consultation about how the service should be delivered and a lack of awareness that it even existed.
Furthermore, the face-to-face nature of previous programmes was thought to be a barrier to participation.
An online wellness tool
Together with Sean Foster (16), their solution was to develop an online access portal. Sean provided the computer expertise needed to develop, code and populate a new website that harnesses the age of smart phones and constant connectedness.
The students are developing a wellness tool, which points students in the direction of help and support spread over three broad categories: Bullying, Relationships and Sexual Identity.
Website users will be able to click through problem-solving steps and find local providers that can help.
Other websites are available that offer similar services, but Speak Up is slightly different as users will be able to fill out online forms that tie directly to the school’s emerging peer support programme.
They hope that introducing this intermediate step will lower students’ resistance and allow them to engage in private before deciding to continue.
They may be onto something.
Local high schools and, even, primary schools are reporting much higher levels of anxiety than in previous years.
Speak Up gives users the ability to engage anonymously rather than confront their fears and insecurities one-on-one. Peer mediators will then be able to access this information and talk through the issues without the student necessarily having to voice their concerns.
With previous programme failures in mind, they decided to find out whether this was so or not. Staff and students are being asked to evaluate the idea and offer feedback about how the service could be improved.
Combatting the fear of the unknown
One thing they have already identified is that there may be a fear of the unknown.
To combat this, the team aims to produce videos showing what students could expect when engaging with various services.
They will show one person’s journey through using the service and give an insight into what they might be asked to do or say; how the process might feel and dispel common myths.
Next time you hear someone say, “Teenagers only think about themselves,” take a moment to reflect on this brave example of students choosing to act in their wider community.
Better still, let it inspire you to act about something that ignites passion in you.
The network will only be accessible by Greymouth High School students in the beginning, but the group plans to extend this as the site develops.
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For more information:
Here is a link to help with mental health issues.